…that’s the way God planned it

”Music is my life and every day I live it, and it’s a good life to everything I want to say through music it gets to you. I may not be the best around but I’m surely not the worst. I learned to play and sing since the age of three, you don’t know how glad I am God laid his hands on me.” ~ Billy Preston, from the liner notes of That’s The Way God Planned It

Well, “He” certainly did lay his hands on William Everett Preston, who was born in Houston, Texas in 1946 and raised mainly in Los Angeles.  Little Billy began playing piano while sitting on his mother’s lap and was a noted child prodigy by the age of ten, when he was onstage backing Mahalia Jackson and several other noted gospel singers.  At eleven he appeared on Nat King Cole’s national TV show and by age twelve he played the young W.C. Handy in the biopic, St. Louis Blues.

In the years that followed he would play with a wide array of incredible acts including: Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Fats Domino, The Band, Sly and the Family Stone, Neil Diamond, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joe Cocker, Herb Alpert…among others.  But Preston left his mark on two bands in particular.

He first met the Beatles, while playing organ for Little Richard in Hamburg in 1962 and first met the Rolling Stones years later, while performing with Ray Charles.  Not only did he join the Stones on a number of their tours, but his keyboard playing can be heard on a number of their albums, including: Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll and Black and Blue.

In 1969, when the Beatles, on the verge of breakup, were working on their album, Let It Be, George Harrison walked out during one of the sessions and ended up at a Ray Charles where Preston was playing organ. The following day Harrison showed up back at the Abbey Road Studios with Preston in tow, and Preston’s sociable personality helped to calm the tension.  So did his keyboard playing.

Billy Preston played for several of the Let It Be sessions (he was there for the rooftop concert) and is the only person ever to be officially credited (i.e. “The Beatles with Billy Preston”) on a Beatles single, reflecting his prominence on “Get Back”.  Sometimes referred to as the ‘Fifth Beatle” as others have been, in this case John Lennon actually proposed the idea (to which McCartney countered, “It’s bad enough with four”).

Later on Preston would compose Joe Cocker’s biggest hit, “You Are So Beautiful” and, along with Janis Ian, would serve as musical guest on Saturday Night Live’s first episode,    but in 1969 he signed to Apple Records to record his his fourth studio album, “That’s the Way God Planned It”  (today’s selection is a live version of the title song) with George Harrison serving as producer.

Preston and Harrison would remain close friends for the rest of Harrison’s life and in addition to playing on several of Harrison’s solo albums, Billy Preston made a most notable appearance at Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. Here’s a YouTube version of today’s selection.  No matter your religious leanings, it’s well worth sticking around for the finale:

  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYxzPdv67yA

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Sunday 6 MAY

That’s the Way God Planned It

 Why can’t we be humble

Like the good lord said

He promised to exault us

And show us the way.

Why are we so greedy

When there’s so much left?

All things are God given

And they all have been blessed

That’s the way God planned it

That’s the way God wants it to be, be

That’s the way God planned it

That’s the way God wants it to be, be

Let not your heart be troubled

Let all your suffering cease

Just learn how to help one another

And live in perfect peace

If we’d just be humbler

Like the good lord said

He promised to exault us

And show us the way

That’s the way God planned it

That’s the way God wants it to be, be

You better believe me

That’s the way God planned it

That’s the way God wants it to be, be

I hope you get this message

Where you won’t others will

You don’t understand me

But I’ll love you still

That’s the way God planned it

That’s the way God wants it to be, be

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